- Critics long warned of HB Antwerp’s stability as a new establishment but did Botswana ignore the warning signs?
The future of Botswana’s eagerly anticipated partnership with diamond processor and trader, HB Antwerp, now hangs in the balance as the company’s co-founders clash over its strategic direction. This development comes at a critical juncture with a pending sales agreement between Botswana and HB Antwerp.
HB Antwerp, co-founded in 2020 by Oded Mansori, Shai de Toledo, and Rafael Papismedov, announced on Monday that it had ousted Mansori from its management ranks due to irreconcilable differences in strategic vision and business approaches. In response, Mansori has vowed to take his co-founders to court to contest his removal.
“Sharp difference in strategic vision”
The Belgian company stated in a press release, “On September 1, HB terminated Oded Mansori’s management role in all the HB Companies,” citing a “sharp difference in strategic vision and approaches to business.” This sudden shift in leadership dynamics has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the company’s future and its high-profile deals.
Of particular concern is Botswana’s involvement in HB Antwerp’s future. Botswana, the world’s leading diamond producer by value, had announced in March its intention to acquire a substantial 24 percent stake in HB Antwerp. Under this arrangement, the state-owned Okavango Diamond Company was expected to supply HB Antwerp with an undisclosed quantity of rough diamonds for a period of five years. However, the finalization of this pivotal deal remains pending.
The ripple effects of this internal dispute may extend beyond HB Antwerp’s partnership with Botswana. The company also has a partnership with Lucara Diamond Corp (LUC.TO), wherein it purchases stones of 10-carat quality and above from Lucara’s Karowe Mine in central Botswana, with prices based on the estimated polished outcome of each diamond.
Have critics been absolved?
Botswana’s decision to invest in HB Antwerp has been shrouded in controversy with critics, including experts and members of parliament, raising concerns about what appeared to be the lack of proper legal, financial, and due diligence assessments before the government purchased a 24 percent stake in the relatively new company.
This week, a prominent corporate lawyer who chose to remain anonymous, in an interview said he wonders whether any due diligence both legal and financial, were done before the Botswana government decided to buy a 24 percent stake in the business.
“Experts say if properly done, then the chasm between co-founders would have come to surface. The differences in strategy would have been identified as a potential red flag. It would have identified risks in the corporate structure and informed the investor on the nature of the entity they were placing funds with. As it is, our investment is at risk. For example, if HB was to go bust and in a foreign jurisdiction where we are not certain about legal processes of that jurisdiction. It’s a precarious situation for our investment,” advised the lawyer.
Meanwhile the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Lefoko Moagi in a heated debate told Parliament in July that: “After very extensive consultation, the Botswana government decided to engage HB Antwerp on its unsolicited proposal with clear intentions of developing Botswana’s diamond value chain.”
He continued: “The government has no official agreement with HB Antwerp because as of today there is no signed agreement. As such there are no final commercial terms to state.”